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Unite Here Local 1 v. Standard Club

October 5, 2007

UNITE HERE LOCAL 1, PLAINTIFF/PETITIONER,
v.
THE STANDARD CLUB, DEFENDANT/RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Petitioner Unite Here Local 1 ("Union") seeks to compel the Standard Club ("Company") to arbitrate a dispute regarding suspension and termination of an employee under the parties' collective bargaining agreement. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is granted.

Background

Standard Club, the Company, is an Illinois not-for-profit corporation. The Union is the bargaining representative of a bargaining unit of the Company's employees. Daniel Luna ("Luna") was an employee represented by the Union. On February 23, 2006, the Company suspended Luna pending investigation for possible termination due to Luna's alleged refusal to cooperate with the Company's anti-drug program and his failure to pass a drug test. On February 27, 2006, the Union submitted a written grievance regarding Luna's suspension with the Company. By letter dated April 3, 2006, the Union submitted the grievance for arbitration. One day later, on April 4, 2006, the Company terminated Luna. The Union did not file a separate written grievance about Luna's termination.

By letter dated October 6, 2006, the Union requested a panel of arbitrators from the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service ("FMCS") for arbitration. After the FMCS issued a panel of arbitrators, the Company refused to proceed with arbitration by contending that Luna's termination is not arbitrable. In particular, the Company contends that the Union failed to address the termination by a separate written grievance, which is allegedly required by the grievance procedure for disputes under the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between the Company and the Union.

Unable to resolve the matter through correspondence or discussion, the Union initiated this Petition to Compel Arbitration.

Analysis

I. Jurisdiction

Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act ("LMRA") confers federal subject matter jurisdiction over "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees . . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 185. In this case, the Union is a labor organization and the Company is an employer under the LMRA. Moreover, the Union is essentially claiming that the Company breached the CBA by filing a written grievance and bringing this action to compel arbitration. See Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Gen. Elec. Co., 865 F.2d 902, 906 (7th Cir. 1989) ("A 'grievance' is merely a claim of breach of the collective bargaining agreement"). Therefore, this court has jurisdiction under Section 301 of the LMRA because the case is about an alleged violation of the CBA between an employer and a labor organization. See Teamsters Nat'l Auto. Transporters Indus. Negotiating Comm. v. Troha, 328 F.3d 325, 328 (7th Cir. 2003) (§ 301 authorizes federal-question jurisdiction on breach of contract allegations).

II. Standard of Review

Without citing any legal authority or giving any reasoning, the Company simply concludes that this court should treat the Union's Petition to Compel Arbitration as a motion for summary judgment that should be denied because of disputed facts. Specifically, the Company argues that the parties dispute what subject matters they intended to arbitrate when they agreed to the arbitration clause in the CBA, and therefore a hearing is necessary to determine the parties intent.

The approach suggested by the Company is at odds with the one consistently taken by other courts that have not treated petitions to arbitrate as motions for summary judgment. Instead, courts resolve petitions to compel arbitration by interpreting the arbitration clause to decide whether the subject matter of the dispute is subject to arbitration, leaving issues of procedural arbitrability to the arbitrator, as will be discussed in greater detail below. See John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 556-58 (1964) (holding that the court is only to decide upon substantive arbitrability while issues about procedural arbitrability such as timeliness of filing a grievance are for the arbitrator); Chicago Typographical Union No. 16 v. Chicago Sun-Times, Inc., 860 F.2d 1420, 1424 (7th Cir. 1988) (same). Because the Company failed to cite any legal authority or provide any other compelling reason to persuade this court to deviate from the established approach, we will not treat the petition to compel arbitration as a motion for summary judgment.

III. Arbitrability

The Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") governs the arbitrability over disputes between the parties to a written agreement. See Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24 (1983). It "creates a body of federal substantive law establishing and regulating the duty to honor an agreement to arbitrate." Id. Specifically, Section 4 of the FAA provides a cause of action for the aggrieved party to compel arbitration against the other party pursuant to a ...


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